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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

'Being here was like being part of a big family'

BELMONT — "Aloha" was the theme of MiraVia's farewell party May 15 for its first residents, Bianca Nanje and her little boy Kasen. The pair have spent the past two years at the maternity home dedicated to college-aged mothers and their children. They are moving to Hawaii to join her new husband Randy, who is in the Marines and stationed there.

MiraVia opened the college-based maternity home, believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., on the grounds of Belmont Abbey College in 2012. The 10,000-square-foot facility can house up to 15 unmarried women who have an unexpected pregnancy, providing free care and assistance so that they can continue their college education and better prepare for motherhood.

Pro-life advocates have long noted the need for an abortion alternative for unmarried, college-aged pregnant women, who make up a significant number of those who choose abortion.

Pictured: Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey and Jeannie Wray and Debbie Capen of MiraVia are pictured with Bianca at her farewell party May 15 at MiraVia. (SueAnn Howell | Catholic News Herald)

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., and unmarried women make up 45 percent of all abortions. The pro-abortion organization admits in its research that three-fourths of abortion-minded women surveyed say that keeping their baby would interfere with work, school or their family life.

MiraVia's college-based maternity home aims to give young women like these the help and tools they need after making the decision to continue their pregnancies.

Belmont Abbey's Benedictine monks donated four acres for the maternity home, and donations from MiraVia benefactors and the Knights of Columbus helped make it a reality. Bishop Peter Jugis, Bishop Emeritus William Curlin; Monsignor Mauricio West, vicar general and chancellor of the Diocese of Charlotte; Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life; Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life; and David Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life, were among those who praised the maternity home at its 2012 dedication.

052115-First-Mira-Via-resident-moving-outBianca Nanje and her little boy Kasen were first residents of MiraVia, a unique college-based maternity home based on the campus of Belmont Abbey College.(Photo provided by MiraVia)Nanje first heard about MiraVia from a nurse at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's student health center. The college student said she was in denial for a while after getting a positive pregnancy test, but she followed the nurse's suggestion and eventually called MiraVia.

"I didn't believe it at first," she said. "A month later I called again to make sure it wasn't a joke and it was really legitimate."

"I met with (the program director) and she told me about the new facility and that they were waiting to receive their resident. At first I thought, 'It can't be real. There's no way there's a place that will help me go to school, help me pay for my baby's diapers, his food, give me a place to stay, give me a crib and my own bathroom – all for free.'"

In August 2013, Nanje gave birth to Kasen who weighed 7 lbs., 1 oz. During her 22-month stay at MiraVia, Nanje has worked toward a criminal justice degree from UNC-Charlotte, and she is expected to graduate in December. She has taken the LSAT, and says she wants to go to law school and someday practice family law so she can help others like herself who went through foster care. Besides her studies, she has been able to work as well as do internships, all while having the support and guidance to become a new mom.

The past two years have not been easy, Nanje said, "but I think it would have been a struggle if I had not been here. I would rather take hard than a struggle any day."

She said the most difficult part of leaving is saying goodbye to the MiraVia staff, especially since she grew up in foster care. "Being here was like being part of a big family. They are like real family. I am really, really going to miss that.

"It's a bittersweet thing (leaving MiraVia). I wish I could build a house right on the property!"

The staff at MiraVia said they have seen Nanje transform from a tentative young mother to a confident young woman who is now married and starting the next chapter of her life with her new husband and her son.

Jeannie Wray, MiraVia's executive director, and the staff were visibly moved as they took turns sharing prayers and best wishes for Nanje during her goodbye luncheon. They also gave her a rosary which had been blessed by Father Pavone at the 2012 dedication.

"It truly is a realization of a dream, and Bianca was our ideal first candidate. She is driven and she has a good heart. She knows where she wants to go and intends to get there. She also understands that a lot of people made this possible," Wray said.

"This is the whole reason in the vision of the house," noted Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari. "This an example of what we wanted to found. We are grateful in particular to the benefactors and those who made this possible. This is what it's for. It's a nice celebration to see that it is working."

Nanje added that she will return to Charlotte often so that Kasen can visit his father.

"The one thing I've learned in being here is to do things the right way (in the future)," she said.

She suggests that young women who find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy like she did should talk to others and seek help. "Don't make the decision by yourself. Reach out and talk to people,' she said. "There are other options (than abortion). The world's not ending. Education is still possible, you just need to be more driven and more focused."

She also said she is grateful to everyone who helped make her son's life and her education possible.
"I don't know if Kasen would be here if not for this place. I'm appreciative of MiraVia and the monks. I would not have had the opportunity or the chance to raise him and be his mother if it wasn't for this place."

— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter